Diary of a Renovator: my al-Mighty mistake

PUBLISHED : Friday, 26 September, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 26 September, 2008, 12:00am

Wealthy homeowners planning renovations have architects and contractors bid for the job. They also conduct interviews and draw up shortlists of likely candidates.

I went through no such process. My contractor was recommended by a friend and my young architects belonged to a design company whose work I had long admired. Crucially, though, I hired them because they were trustworthy, affordable and likeable.

That doesn't mean we haven't come to blows, but the scraps have not resembled those I had with a previous contractor. Four years ago I invited Mighty (by name, not by nature) into my first-floor flat at the introduction of the real estate agent who sold me the place. I should have known better. The buffoon almost sabotaged the deal by trying, minutes before the provisional agreement was to be signed, to gouge more money out of me. I no longer speak to him or to Mighty, who took weeks simply to build my bathroom plus a few more to undo the damage. The last thing I recall saying to him, before slamming the door and locking myself out, was: 'Call yourself a Christian!'

I have nothing against his religion. I lobbed that in, weighted with an expletive, because during the time he took to complete the project he tried to convert me. Come to think of it, I hired him because he was a churchgoer. I also admired his shiny shoes.

His appearance should have warned me about his modus operandi. All he seemed to do was find itinerant men, pay them about HK$600 a day and field irate phone calls when things went wrong. Much did. Instead of constructing a tub in my bathroom I was given a swimming pool (which, admittedly, I've grown to like). Whoever built it didn't bother to look at my drawings or even use a measuring tape: the off-centre plughole is proof. The bath taps were also installed so low that water bounced off the rim, and the water heater - which I later discovered was designed for kitchen use - produced deliciously hot 'showers' only if single droplets were allowed to fall. Then there was the mystery of the toilet-roll holder. With no one owning up to installing the contraption where even long-armed swimmer Michael Phelps couldn't have reached it, I will never know the reason behind its placement.

Those were only blips, mind. What led to the unkind farewell was the bathroom floor.

'I want white concrete underfoot,' I told Mighty, who, I think, memorised the important words then looked them up in his car before asking the local hardware shop owner what to do. The nougat-like substance one of his workers poured refused to set. When I produced an indented footprint a week later I demanded that everything be scraped away. A solution was to use epoxy paint over new concrete. White, however, quickly turned yellow, and a scrubbing brush I flung down in frustration cracked the surface.

'You'll have to tile the floor,' I snapped before being told the small expanse wasn't flat. That's when I slammed the front door of the flat, with him inside.

Now that I have purchased the ground-floor apartment and am connecting both levels, I realise how lucky I am to have my present team. For all I know, Mighty may have been a shoe repairman from Monday to Friday and a contractor at weekends.

In renovating my home I have chosen not to redo the first-floor bathroom because it is relatively new. There's another reason it's still there: it reminds me of how reckless I had been by inviting a stranger into my home. Of course I had asked for references but I reckon, in retrospect, it must have been Mighty's girlfriend or mother who picked up the phone when I called to check on his work. Not surprisingly, when things started going wrong, like McCavity, they were never there.

Most of my columns thus far have dealt with the ghastly aspects of renovation. There have been few(er) nasty surprises this week, which has given me pause. Everyone makes blunders. That goes for my contractor, architects and workers. I too am guilty. Mighty was my mistake.

If you have renovation-related tales you would like to share, e-mail Xiu Fang at features@scmp.com


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